by Gary Carlson
There is a down-side to everything, and for most outdoor activities that equates to the clean-up afterward. Scuba diving is no exception, but while cleaning up after a picnic or rock festival is necessary, with your scuba gear you are talking about your life-support system, and a little more care should be given to this than a recently used cow pasture.
At first glance there seems to be really nothing to it. Chances are that you were diving in relatively clean water, perhaps from a boat, and you may have a little dock or street detritus adhering to the soles of your exposure suit, and perhaps a bit of seaweed of other aquatic flotsam hanging here and there. It seems like a quick brush or a spray of water and you are good to go. Not so fast there brother/sister scuba diver, there is a little more to it than that.
Diving in the ocean is the best type of diving, in my opinion. With the seas covering a large portion of the planet, oceans afford a fairly large choice of diving opportunities. The water is heavily salted, which is the bane of coastal residents everywhere, because of its corrosive and oxidizing attributes. If you have metal stuff near the sea you will experience rust.
Thankfully scuba gear is generally rust proof. The metallic portions being mostly made of stainless steel, and chromed or anodized brass. The other components of the gear may include, but are not limited to, nylon straps, plastic buckles and clips, vulcanized rubber, Viton O-rings and the like. Add to this the various scuba accessories we purchase as therapy when diving isn’t possible, and you have a pile of stuff to clean and maintain when you return from a bit of diving.
For the gear of ocean divers, salt is the enemy. That mineral which gives the ocean that “clean” feel and allows for the myriad forms of life we encounter is H-E-double toothpicks on our life support systems. Salt in the sea water is in solution and while submerged the detrimental effects on our equipment is minimized. Going on a week of diving where your gear is quick rinsed daily, and is pretty much damp for the duration of your stay will have little to no effect on the life of your gear. It is when our equipment dries that salt makes its darker sides known.
Salt, the only mineral we consciously consume, comes from the sea. Even in areas where it is mined the salt has been deposited from ancient seas, hence “Himalayan Sea Salt”. In its dry form it is a sharp edged crystal resembling shattered cubes. When we dive our gear is totally saturated with salt water, the salt being in solution, and there is not a crook, cranny, or filament of fabric that is not exposed to it. We become a salt sponge. If you take that gear, and hang it out to dry, the water evaporates leaving the salt behind in its crystalline form sometimes in a white sparkling crust. These crusts, a manifestation of the sharp edged crystals mentioned earlier have come out of solution within the fabric and crannies of the equipment. Manipulating the gear causes the softer elements to be abraded by the sharp crystals, shortening the life and luster of the equipment.
Salt has a couple of other attributes that are not scuba friendly. First, salt is caustic and reacts to most metals over time. Even high grades of stainless steel will see a bit of tarnish over long-term exposure. Our regulators being chromed brass usually are very good at resisting salt’s corrosiveness; however repeated wetting and drying with salt water can eventually cause corrosion and green crustiness.
Which brings us to one of the minerals strangest attributes; Salt desires the world’s atmosphere to be at 75% humidity, and works to make that happen. When the air is less than 75% humidity salt will give off any moisture it has to the surrounding air, conversely when the air is above 75% humidity salt draws moisture from the atmosphere in an attempt to make it drier. (I am fully aware that most minerals do not “desire” or “attempt”, but I am trying to write this so I can understand it.) With the air being so much larger than most accumulations of salt, the salt draws in so much moisture that it turns to brine.
The bottom line is that you really gotta get this stuff outta your gear before it starts its detrimental effects.
Many manufactures of scuba equipment suggest soaking your gear in warm fresh water for twice as long as it has been submerged in the ocean. Get yourself a large tote or container and fill it with warm water, not hot, submerge your BCD, exposure suit, fins, mask and all that wet stuff and give it a good thorough (yet gentle) agitation, put your weight belt on top to hold it down, and wait the recommended period. Leaving it overnight is OK; the stuff is fairly water-proof.
There are a variety of products to add to the water to help with the cleansing, such as soaps and desalinating products which are available at your local dive center/store and formulated especially for scuba gear. Should you choose to use something from under the kitchen sink, choose low-sudsing options and go sparingly. You will thank yourself when you get to the rinsing.
When the time is up remove the gear, dump the water and replace it with fresh. Dunk your gear and gently rinse it out. It is a good idea to put some fresh water in the bladder of your BCD, slosh it around and dump it out, as this is obviously not a good place for those sharp salt crystals to form. Orally inflate your BCD and hang it up in an open location out of the sun, to dry. It’s the same for the rest; your suit, mask, and other accoutrements should be thoroughly rinsed in fresh water and hung to dry outta the sun.
Let’s address the regulator, that little chunk of gear that supplies our air underwater. This is like THE important piece of equipment in my opinion. I can almost get by without my mask for a while, but when it comes to breathing I really like a confident and reliable flow of air. Prior to soaking the regulator with the rest of your equipment, hook it up to a tank and submerge the second stage (it has a mouthpiece) in fresh water and depress the purge button (make bubbles) while shaking it around a few times. This helps to remove that annoying salt from the delicate mechanism within.
These procedures, along with professional annual inspections, will ensure long and trouble free use of your life support system.